The Latina lawyer building up Houston’s next generation of lawyers
Natalie Gonzales, a partner at a large law firm in Houston, has sought to give back by providing mentorship opportunities to law students.
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Despite the barriers to women and Latinos in the legal profession, every one of them who has risen to become a partner at a large law firm has proven to possess an abundance of skill.
Among those who have pushed themselves so far is Natalie Gonzales an IP lawyer and partner with Baker Botts, a Houston-based law firm centered on clients within the technology, life sciences, and energy industries.
Alongside her position at the firm, she also serves as the President of the Hispanic Bar Association of Houston (HisBA), a nonprofit that works to advance and support the law careers of Hispanics in Houston, Texas.
Navigating a Changing Path
According to a 2022 study conducted by the National Association of Law Placement, only 0.97% of all law firm partners were Hispanic women, and they made up only a third of all Hispanic law partners.
Since its founding in 1987, HisBA has enacted numerous scholarships throughout its history, and more recently, a one-on-one mentorship program.
Founded three years ago, the HisBA Law School Mentorship Program connects established lawyers with students to build the next generation of lawyers in the region, accepting over 100 mentees alone last year.
“From the mentor perspective, we want to shape the next generation of lawyers and make sure that they are contributing to society, that they're doing a great job in terms of their legal practices,” Gonzales said in an interview with AL DÍA. “The only way that they can do that is if folks step up and give their time back and help train them.”
As a college student, Gonzales had chosen to pursue a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Texas, in Austin. After working on multiple summer internships, Gonzales decided that becoming an engineer wasn’t what she wanted, not for a lifelong career, at least.
Born and raised in the small town of Donna, Texas, Gonzales did not come from a lawyer family, as her parents grew up working in the fields since they were young.
The first and only influence to become a lawyer would come from her brother, eight years her senior, who would offer advice to her when she sought to change tracks for her career.
Gonzales’ brother, who was studying to be a lawyer at the time, suggested that she look into intellectual property law, leading Gonzales to take her mechanical engineering degree and her experience in the field to pursue a degree in law at University of Houston Law Center.
When she graduated, Gonzales worked under a judge for a year, but would later make her career through 13 years of work in IP law for Baker Botts, working on patent and trade secret litigation, and handling technology transactions and deals for her clients.
Originally joining the firm in 2010, Gonzales was made a partner at Baker Botts in 2019.
The next generation in progress
For Gonzales, training the next generation of Latino lawyers is vital. Taking from her own experience, Gonzales knows that your future isn’t always clear, and never set in stone. This has motivated her to reach out to younger students to mentor them.
“I always tell them, ‘you're much further ahead than I was, because I had no idea.’ I had no idea what IP Law was when I was a teenager,” Gonzales recounted.
Recently, HisBA hosted its 35th annual fundraiser gala, of which Gonzales was a driving force, raising over $208,000. Over $50,000 of the money raised will be awarded in scholarships to law students.
This year, one of HisBA's contributions will go towards the University of Houston Law Center's pipeline program, which aids students throughout every step of the way as they study to become lawyers.
Within the pipeline program, HisBA has sponsored Scholar II (Rising Senior), a learning track that focuses on building strong law school applications through a concentrated curriculum about the LSAT test, creating student résumés, personal statements, and diversity statements for submission to law school.
Another program Gonzales and HisBA are focusing on is several summer fellowships for law students who may be financially overtaxed through taking out loans to afford law school, and unpaid summer legal internships.
“A lot of times, law students decide that they want to do some public interest work. They want to go work for the ACLU, they want to work at the DA's office, they want to go work for a judge,” Gonzales explained. “There's definitely value in doing all of that, but a lot of times those [positions] are unpaid.”
For other Latinas entering the law field, Gonzales warns against imposter syndrome. She relates to feelings of not fitting in, but knows that if she hadn’t stayed her course and had given up, she wouldn’t be able to help others as she does now.
“I wouldn't be someone who started mentorship programs, and who the next generation can hopefully look up to and at least see that it's possible,” Gonzales concluded.